The Windows maker emphasised the importance of a touchscreen interface for the latest devices, hoping that users will forget the lacklustre performance of Windows 8 and embrace new machines with Windows 8.1.
The upgrade, which will be released in the autumn and is currently in preview, includes the return of the Start menu as well as more forward thinking moves such as the support of 3D printing.
Key to the new software, however, is an upgrade to Internet Explorer, and the company claimed IE11 is “fast, fluid and perfect for touch”. Microsoft said IE11 would load pages faster and offer better browsing across a range of devices. The company hopes it will challenge the dominance of Android and Apple phones and tablets by providing “the best Web experience across the full range of Windows devices and screen sizes”. Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for Internet Explorer, wrote on the MSDN blog that “Performance matters to everyone who browses the Web. The way to judge performance is how responsive browser and device are, especially to touch. On today’s devices, touch is the new fast.” He highlighted features including improved browsing of sites side by side on the same screen and syncing of passwords and favourite sites across devices through the cloud. With more services using a web browser interface, Internet Explorer 11 will provide a crucial point of difference between Windows, Apple and Google, with Microsoft claiming that even with up to 100 tabs possible, “IE11 produces “stick to your finger” touch responsiveness”. Hachamovitch claimed “We optimized the IE11 browsing engine for real-world sites to download and display fast and be highly responsive to touch. Developers can build next generation experiences with professional-quality Web video, and hyper-fast 2D and 3D Web technologies that make the most of the underlying hardware.” Launching Windows 8.1 yesterday, Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said the new software was a “refined blend” of the Windows that was launched last year for tablets, desktops and laptops, but has failed to boost the flagging PC market. “We pushed boldly in Windows 8,” he claimed. “And yet what we found is that we got a lot of feedback from users. If I were put it in coffee terms, they said, ‘Why don’t you refine the blend here?'” He admitted early adopters had suggested Microsoft go back and “re-mix the desktop experience and the modern interface”. The overall look of Windows 8.1 is similar to Windows 8, but offers more opportunities for users to personalize and adjust the software both to their own tastes and to resemble earlier, more popular versions of the software. Microsoft has released Internet Explorer 11 along with Windows 8.1, claiming to offer a unique web and computing experience based on touch.